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Re: [ontolog-forum] brainwaves (WAS: to concept or not to concept, is th

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Mon, 10 Dec 2007 06:02:23 -0500
Message-id: <475D1CBF.7090303@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Paola,    (01)

Falsifiability is part of Popper's philosophy of science, and most
people consider it a good approach to testing a theory.  The logical
positivists were originally opposed to it because they had proposed
verifiability as their criterion.  But Popper merely pointed out that
it is extremely difficult and, in most cases, impossible to show that
a true hypothesis is absolutely true.  However, it's much easier to
show that a false one is false.    (02)

 > I was referring to 'falsifiability' as regarded by some as an
 > essential requirement for an experiment to be scientifically valid,
 > and as totally absurd by others, especially in the light of quantum
 > theory, where the same conditions are likely never to be repeatable
 > in an experiment. I am interested opinions on falsifiability btw -    (03)

Falsifiability is not a property of an experiment, but of a hypothesis,
and it's just as applicable to quantum mechanics as it is to auto
mechanics, cooking, or any other subject.    (04)

The basic idea is very simple.  Just take any sample hypothesis:    (05)

    All crows are black.    (06)

To verify this statement, it would be necessary to check every crow
that exists.  If you miss a single one, it's conceivable that you
overlooked the crucial crow that makes the statement false.    (07)

But to show that the statement is false, you don't have to check
every one.  You can stop at the first crow that is not black.
If many people search far and wide without finding a non-black
crow, that gives some assurance that the hypothesis is fairly
reliable.  (But no empirical theory can be absolutely certain.)    (08)

A theory that states probabilities, such as quantum mechanics,
is no different in principle.  QM, for example, might predict
a probability distribution for some observation.  To test it,
just perform several experiments to see how close the observed
values are to the expected distribution.  If you repeatedly
get a very different distribution, that shows the hypothesis
is false (or perhaps, your equipment or procedure is bad).    (09)

That is all there is to 'falsifiability'.  It is just a rather
obvious point.  However, Popper went on to say that it provides
a criterion for good science:  A theory should be stated so
precisely that it suggests easy experiments for testing whether
the theory is false.  If a lot of very knowledgeable people try
as hard as they can to show it is false but fail, then the theory
is fairly reliable.    (010)

Quality control inspectors do the same thing for testing any kind
of product, ranging from cars and computers to dresses and pies:
search for possible flaws that would make it a bad example.  If
they can't find any, that doesn't prove there are no flaws, but
it provides some assurance that it's fairly good.    (011)

And by the way, Peirce made very similar remarks about 50 years
before Popper, but he didn't use the word 'falsifiability'.    (012)

John    (013)

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